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News from The Gem Shop

Ramshorn Plume Agate pt. 1

The Quartzsite show is just around the corner and those of you who are planning on visiting for the first time are in for an unusual experience. The Quartzsite show is a unique rock show as you never know what you might find there, (referring to all the shows as a group). The following is a story of Ramshorn Plume Agate and how the Quartzsite show adds to the richness of the lapidary world.
About 20 years ago my good friend Jake, Darroll Jacobitz, and I were walking around the Pow Wow in Quartzsite Arizona. We were both dealers in this show and we're taking a break walking around to see what we could find. We came across a young man selling small quantities of rock mostly from Wyoming. Jake and I noticed a box of slabs with a strong green outside that looked very similar to some of the vein agate and limb casts that Jake and I collect every year in the Wiggins Fork area of Wyoming. While the slabs looked similar to agate we collected at Wiggins Fork, it had beautiful gold plumes on a dark green bass with clear agate on top. We asked the young man if it was from Wiggins Fork and he said no. It was from Ramshorn Mountain.
Wiggins Fork and Ramshorn Mountain are part of the same mountain range that extends out of the southeast corner of Yellowstone Park. Agate veins of different types and limb casts can be found throughout this area. Ramshorn Mountain is directly north of Dubois Wyoming and the Wiggins Fork collecting area is further north at the junction of Wiggins and Frontier creeks. The agate found in these mountains is mostly found between the 9 and 10,000 foot level of elevation.The agate looked very nice so we continued to ask questions. It turns out that the agate was found by the young man's father while hunting and he was at the deposit several times when he was a boy between 8 and 12 years old. All of the rock he was selling came from his father who had passed on. He could not remember where the deposit was and the only information he could provide us was that the it was found on Ramshorn Mountain close to the tree line in elevation. Jake and I decided to try and find it.

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2016 Agate Expo DVD Commercial

The 2016 Agate Expo DVD Sets are now available! The DVDs document this historic event, and each set highlights a different portion of the show. The Symposium, Exhibit Hall, Show Talks, Show Floor, Art Gala Night, and the Banquet are all featured in the DVDs. Watch the 2016 Agate Expo DVD commercial on our YouTube Channel to preview what these DVDs have to offer.
Order the DVDs on our website:

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2016 Agate Expo DVD

     The 2016 Agate Expo was a historic event, which showcased the greatest collection of agates ever!  Relive the 2016 Agate Expo with the commemorative DVD sets.  Each DVD set highlights a different portion of the show.  

  • Symposium DVD features all 12 speakers and their presentations.  
  • Exhibit Hall DVD features over 120 world class exhibits and interviews with many of the collectors.  
  • Show Talks DVD features all 10 speakers and their presentations.
  • Highlights DVD features the ribbon cutting ceremony, interviews with vendors, Art Gala Night, and the banquet, which includes Brad Cross' presentation.

These DVD's are a great addition to any rock club or rockhound's library.  If you missed the show, this is your chance to see what you missed.  The DVD's can be order separately or save $50 when you order the complete collection.  Pick up your copy today!

2016 Agate Expo DVD Sets:

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Steve Wheeler Art

     Steve Wheeler was a featured artist at the 2016 Agate Expo Art Gala Night. He specializes in micro-photography of agates and jaspers, and his work has been seen in Rock & Gem Magazine and several of The Gem Shop's Calendar of Fine Agates and Jaspers.  Steve’s goal in his ‘agate art’ is to create aesthetically pleasing pieces that would be appreciated by anyone, not just connoisseurs of gems and minerals.  The Gem Shop is proud to have a selection of his art pieces available for sale.  These exquisite prints includes micro-photography of Laguna Agate, Willow Creek Jasper, Coyamito Agate, and many other fine agates and jaspers.  Discover the beauty in Steve's art:

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South Dakota Jewelry

 Artist Mark Anderson has created five distinct necklaces exclusively for The Gem Shop.  These necklaces all have a South Dakota theme.  

-  Dinobone Necklace - The front of this pendant is an agatized dinosaur bone cabochon, which displays orange, red, and black coloring.  On the back is a dinosaur skull engraving.  The front half of the pendant is curved, while the backside is flat.  Agatized Dinosaur Bone can be found in South Dakota.  

- Dinosaur Skull Necklace - The pendant is a sterling silver engraving of a dinosaur skeleton.  Dinosaur fossils can be found throughout South Dakota. 

- Pasque Flower Necklace - The Pasque is South Dakota's official state flower.  When it blooms it is one of the first signs of spring in South Dakota.  This sterling silver pendant was hand carved and cast, with an Amethyst gem in the center.  The Amethyst's color represents the rich purple coloring within the flower.

- Swazi Agate Necklace - The necklace features a Swazi Agate Cabochon that is wrapped in sterling silver.  On the backside of the pendant the South Dakota State Flower is engraved, the Pasque Flower.

- Walleye Necklace - The pendant is a sterling silver engraving of a walleye skeleton.  The walleye skeleton is a symbol for walleye fishermen, and is the state fish of South Dakota.

The pendants are all hung on 18 inch sterling silver chains.  These necklaces are all handcrafted and quantities are limited.  Perfect for people who love South Dakota or very unique jewelry.  Discover these one-of-a-kind necklaces:  

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New Books

Three new agate books are now available at The Gem Shop!  Pat McMahan and Tom Harmon have put together their respective books with beautiful photography and great insights to different aspects of the agate world.  These books are all great additions to any rockhound's library.

Agates: The Pat McMahan Collection - The book features one of the most comprehensive collections of Sagenite, plume, and banded agates in the world.  1,150 specimens are featured from over 300 deposits in beautiful color.  Lively prospecting stories are also featured.

The World of Dendrites in Agate - by Tom Harmon with photography by Thomas Shearer.  Dendrites can form in agates from all over the world.  Discover how they are created and where to find them.  Beautiful images of many types of dendritic agate are plentiful throughout this book.

The Many Faces of Montana Agate Collections - by Tom Harmon.  Discover the beauty of Montana Agate and the formations, structures, inclusions, and other features that make this agate very desirable.  Learn about how they were formed and where to find them.

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2017 Calendar & 2016 Agate Expo

2017 Calendar

     The Gem Shop's 2017 Calendar of Fine Agates and Jaspers in now available!  The calendar features some of the world's finest agates and jaspers.  Featured this year are Pauite Agate, Laguna Agate, Chinese Agate, and many more exquisite agates and jaspers.
     Quantity discounts are available for the calendar.  Contact the store at 877-377-4666 for further details.

2016 Agate Expo    

The 2016 Agate Expo was a very successful event and a great time was had by all.  Guests and participants came from all over the world, and over 30 of the 48 mainland states to Cedarburg, Wisconsin.  Relive the show with the 2016 Agate Expo DVD Set.  The DVDs will be comprised of a Symposium Set, Exhibit Hall Set, Show Talks Set, and Show Highlights Set, which include the Art Gala and Banquet.  Sets can be pre-ordered individually or as a complete set.  The DVD will be ready to ship in 3-4 weeks.  
     Show off your love of agates with 2016 Agate Expo souvenirs!  If you forgot to purchase your souvenir at the show, it is not too late.  T-Shirts, hats, wine cozies, cinch packs are all still available.  Thank you to all attendees and we hope you enjoyed your time at the show and in Cedarburg!



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I have been asked several times, “What is the situation in the Morrisonite area relative to the possibility of future production.” The situation is very complex and involves many issues. I hesitate to write this because there will be controversy. Other events compel me to do this now.

First of all, I have to offer this disclaimer, I am not a lawyer and all the legal implications are from my experience and do not bare legal expertise.  I am writing this in the sincere hope that it will contribute to more Morrisonite being produced.
There were five claims filed on the west side of Sheepshead Ridge between 1970 and 1975 over the Morrisonite deposits. They were called Big Hole, Big Hole II, Amy Ellen, Christine Marie, and Lacey. A jeep road was put in from the canyon rim and a dozer cut into the canyon side all the way to the Amy Allen claim. This road connected with the road constructed by Jim Morrison many years earlier from the Owyhee River below. Jim Morrison and other people used the road from the river to collect jasper and for hunting.
All of this was in existence before 1976 when Congress passed FLPMA - the Federal Land Policy and Management Act. This Act did many things, one of which required the BLM to investigate all the lands it managed for the possibility of inclusion in the Wilderness system. The BLM organized this by state forming what are called Wilderness Study Areas - WSA’s. Each WSA was to be 5000 acres or larger, be roadless and have minimal human impact on the land included within its boundaries. Each of these WSA’s was too then be studied for wilderness characteristics, have a mineral report done on the potential for mineral value on the land and be given a recommendation either for or against inclusion into the Wilderness system. The list of WSA’s, by state, was to be voted on by Congress before 1991. For example, Congress could vote to have 50% of the WSA’s in a given state become wilderness.
Needless to say many WSA’s were eliminated because they did not meet the criteria above. Also, not all states, like Oregon, had their WSA’s voted on by Congress. All the WSA’s in those states exist today no matter if they are recommended as acceptable or unacceptable for wilderness designation. More about this later.
The Blue Canyon WSA was formed north of the Jordan Craters WSA along with several others along the south and east sides of the Owyhee River Canyon. These WSA’s were separated by existing roads and the river. the Morrisonite claims and the road into the claims are in the middle of the Blue Canyon WSA. At the time of the WSA formation, there was intense pressure from environmental groups to include all the lands around the Owyhee River Canyon as potential Wilderness. There were other groups that wanted to make the Owyhee River Canyon a national park. The Blue Canyon WSA is on the far eastern part of the canyon and does not meet the criteria necessary for wilderness. In order to satisfy the pressure and to include the area in a WSA the following was done. First of all, the road, the cabins and the major mine workings were eliminated from the WSA land.They did this by having the boundary of the WSA go down one side of the road, around the cabins, around the major mining workings, and then out the other side of the road. So the road into the claims is not in the WSA, the cabins are not in the WSA, and the major workings of the Big Hole claim are not in the WSA. The EIS for the Blue Canyon WSA lists the amount of this land as 10 acres. So there are 10 acres of land inside the periphery of the WSA that are not in the WSA and do not come under WSA rules. The boundary of the Blue Canyon WSA follows Birch Creek Road down to private land along the river, goes along the river then up the far side of Blue Canyon until it hits the road on the lava plateau, then along one side of the road into the cabins, around the mine workings, and back out the other side of the road and then back to Birch Creek Road. The next thing that was done to make the area acceptable as a WSÀ was to declare the road that Jim Morrison made a “way” and not a road. What is a “way” and not a road was defined in a report to Congress called RS 2477. This document summarized the public right of way as it applied to trails, ways, and roads across public land and also provided diffinitions of each. Any rought traveled by the public that has been improved with equipment is a public road. The WSA criteria says that any natural area that has a road through it is not acceptable as a WSA. By calling this road a “way” (traveled rought with no improvement), there was no road through the proposed WSA.
The elimination of the road and mine workings from the study area (even though they are in the center of the study area) and the elimination of the road designations up from the river allowed for the Blue Canyon WSA to come into existence. Because of the private land along the river adjoining the WSA and the grandfathers rights of the five mining claims, the Blue Canyon WSA was given a negative recommendation for wilderness. In the 70's the old Morrison ranch was owned by a man named Marty Rust.
He used the ranch as a private getaway, built an airstrip, and he and his guests would fly in and out. Mr. Rust sold his land back to the government for about 3 million dollars of taxpayer money. After the BLM gained control of his land they changed the recommendation for the Blue Canyon WSA to a positive recommendation for wilderness.
As a part of the evaluation process for each WSA there must be a mineral study done to evaluate the mineral potential of the area. I was there when two geologists came to survey the area and I discussed the deposits with them. They were impressed with the extent of the Jasper bearing rock describing the Jasper as being zoned in the surrounding area rather than as an isolated deposit. I do not have the mineral report in front of me as I am writing this from memory, but I remember the report as being extensive. I also remember that the final EIS (environmental impact statement) made very little reference to the report.
All 5 Morrisonite claims had what are called “grandfathered rights” because they were all in existence before 1976. This meant that mining can occur on them even though they were in the WSA. New claims can be filed in WSA’s but they cannot be worked as the BLM is charged with managing the WSA land as if it were wilderness. Until such time that Congress decides which WSA’s are to become wilderness and which are not, all WSA land cannot be mined without grandfathered rights. When WSA land is withdrawn from Wilderness consideration it goes back to the multiple use directive and mining can continue.
I first visited the Morrisonite area in 1984 or '85 at the request of a man named Larry Butler. He had acquired the Amy Ellen and one half of the Christine Marie claims and wanted me to evaluate them. I discovered at that time that the Lacey and Big Hole II claims had been abandoned. I filled over the same land as the Lanora Jane and Veronica Lee claims. I did not know or understand at the time that these new claims cannot be worked except on those portions of the claims that are not in the WSA. Because the ownership of the claimed land is not continuous from 1976 on, the grandfathered rights are lost and the claim cannot be worked while the WSA is in existence.
My friend Jake, leased the Big Hole claim from Lisa Caldwell after Tom Caldwell died. Due to an uncertainty in the assessment work the BLM recommended to Lisa that she file a new claim over the big hole claim to ensure her continued ownership. Not realizing that this would nullify the grandfathered writes, the Meadowlark claim was formed over the Big Hole claim. After assessment work was done on one claim but not the other I filed over both claims as the Jake’s place claim. This created a big mess with only one really important result. The grandfathered rights on the Big Hole claim we're lost.
Only the Christine Marie and Amy Allen claims have grandfathered rights today and can be mined creating new disturbance under an approved Mining plan. The Jake’s place / Meadowlark claim, the Veronica Lee claim, and the Lanora Jane claim have small areas that are not in the WSA and can be mined only on those areas under the general Mining rules. This applies only to the 10 acres of land that is excluded from the WSA even though it is in the middle of the WSA.
When Jake and I were working in the early 90’s the BLM tried to impose upon Jake restrictive WSA rules for his activities. Mining for him was very difficult until it was pointed out by the state BLM office that he was working on multiple use ground and not in the WSA. So the mining possibilities are anywhere on the Christine Marie and Amy Allen claims and on the small portions of land on the Jake’s Place / Meadowlark claim and even smaller portions on the Veronica Lee claim. Land that is considered in the WSA cannot be touched or disturbed or moved or covered. I will not go into the difficulties of mining under these conditions as I am only considering here what is possible. I also would like to say here that there is lots of Jasper left in the deposits. The deposits are not depleted and in fact the Amy Allen claim has never had a piece of equipment on it. The area has only been dug by hand and some say this is where the most exotic colored Morrisonite jasper is found.
Congress was asked to decide on all WSA’s by 1991 in the law passed in 1976. Some states have gone through this process and others have not. Arizona has, and there are no longer any WSA’s in the state. Those lands in WSA’s that were not designated as wilderness have gone back to land managed under the multiple use directive. I am not sure about this but I believe about one half of the WSA’s became wilderness areas in Arizona. After several states went through this process there has been considerable effort to prevent the process from continuing for other states. Since all WSA’s must be managed as if they are wilderness, (so that if Congress acts, they are suitable for inclusion in the wilderness system), environmental groups have worked to prevent the completion of the program envisioned in 1976. In their view it is better to have all WSA’s managed as wilderness rather than have only half of them actually become wilderness.
Morrisonite Jasper is considered to be the finest Jasper in the world. That is not my designation but a claim made by many others. The people who want this area to be part of a national park don't care about Morrisonite Jasper. To them the mining activity is solely an irritation to their goal and they do not understand or accept that a Jasper rock could be the best of anything, let alone the best in the world. The series of events that have led to the current situation can easily be seen from a minor's point of view as conspiratorial. The miner has enough problems trying to get the rock out of the ground and does not want to concern himself with whether the route he just traversed was a road or a way. The BLM says that the Blue Canyon WSA is pristine -That the road into the deposits and the work there is an illusion and not part of the WSA. The BLM says that an obvious road made with equipment was just some patch of land driven over a few times. Suggestions by BLM officials that result in the loss of Rights are just some unfortunate circumstance. All of these suggest a conspiratorial effort to prevent mining in the area. I have felt this way myself even though my mind tells me it is probably not true. The BLM has a difficult job managing public lands with multiple use desires. But, in the case of the Blue Canyon WSA, the BLM has tipped the scales so far in one direction that only an act of Congress can change it. If you have had the fortitude to read this to the end I encourage you to contact your congressman when the Oregon WSA’s come up for a vote in Congress. Do not let the Blue Canyon WSA become wilderness and the chances that the world will get to see more of God's greatest Jasper will increase. - Eugene Mueller 2-2-16

  • Morrisonite Cabin
  • Morrisonite Cabin
  • Morrisonite Cabin

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Morrisonite Cabins Part III

The third cabin on the Morrisonite claims was built on the south end of the Christine Marie claim about 600 ft. below the canyon rim. The Christine Marie claim extends down into the 2000 ft deep Owyhee River Canyon further then any of the other 4 Morrisonite claims. I built this cabin up against a large flat rock over a period of several years around 1990 so that I could live closer to where I was working. It is a mining axiom, that the closer you live to your mining activities the more rock you will extract.

The decision to do this came over a period of time. The drive down and back up to the cabins every day was dangerous and hard on the Scout. Also, since I am a diabetic, it was not good for me to be so far away from food, insulin and other resources. The old Scout that can be seen in several of the pictures was used to make the trip up and down. The odometer on the Scout measures the distance down as 3/4 mile and the distance up as 1 mile. The discrepancy is a result of slipping and spinning tires over the very steep road coming up. Three of the switch backs on the road are too sharp to make the turn requiring stopping, backing up, and accelerating to make the next clime. One time I was driving up a steep grade and the engine on the Scout sputtered and died. I backed down to the last switchback and tried restarting it. It stared right up and seemed fine so I stared back up only to have the same thing happen again. I found out that if you did not have the gas tank full enough, the engine could not pull the gas from the tank which was lower than the engine because of the steepness of the hill. I eventually installed a second gas tank in the back of the Scout and had a "down hill" gas tank and a "up hill" gas tank connected with a switch under the driver's seat. It was important to have the switch in the right position before driving up. Oh yes, I backed the Scout up the hill and out. It ran fine with the gas tank above the engine.

I built cabin III for $34. That is the total amount of money I spent on resources for the cabin. In the late 1980's, it was discovered that the 80 year old Gem Shop building had a nice wood floor under two layers of plywood with ugly linoleum tile on top. These 4 by 8 sheets were pulled up, hauled to Oregon, and used to make the roof of the cabin. Some of the glass showcases in our shop get scratches from all the rocks that pass across their surfaces. When these glass tops were replaced they became windows in the cabin. Bent nails from other projects were saved, straightened and used to nail boards together on the cabin - anything to minimize the cost. I would like to say that most of the miners who worked the Morrisonite claims over the years did so more because they loved the rock and thought the world should see it, than they did to try and make money. Making some money is a necessity however, and mining as cheeply as posible minimizes the risk and has been the rule. This was especially true for my friend Jake. Jake lived off of what he produced and had no other source if income or backing. He has lived outside most of his life (no rent or mortgage payments). I know of no person more resourceful, optimistic, ethical, or knowledgeable about the extraction of Agate and Jasper from the ground. The cabin was built by attaching 4 long poles by drilling and pegging them to the large rock. Other rocks removed while mining, were drilled and split using feathers and wedges to create a flat surface. These became bases for the walls which supported the roof. All three Cabins have dirt and rock roofs. The most destructive force out here is the wind and the weight on the roof adds stability to the structures. A picture of this cabin is used on the back cover of the Calendar of Fine Agates and Jaspers published evey year by The Gem Shop. I will also have an exhibit of Christine Marie Morrisonite in the Agate Expo exhibit hall next July 2016.

  • Morrisonite Cabin
  • Morrisonite Cabin
  • Morrisonite Cabin
  • Morrisonite Cabin
  • Morrisonite Cabin
  • Morrisonite Cabin
  • Morrisonite Cabin

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Morrisonite Cabins Part II

The second cabin on the Morrisonite claims was built by Tom Caldwell in 1976 shortly after Jake built the first one. Tom had a distinct advantage in terms of resources as his father owned a lumber yard in Marcing Idaho. After making some plans, Tom went to town, loaded a trailer with a ton of logs poles and boards from his father's lumber yard, and headed back to the mine. He brought his wife, Lisa, with him. The trailer was overloaded and a bit much for his truck. As they approached the rim of the canyon, Lisa asked Tom if he planned on trying to pull the trailer over the rim and down to the flat. Tom said sure. Lisa immediately made Tom stop the truck and she got out. Lisa said, I'll walk down. Tom, being a "go for it" kind of guy, without hesitation directed the truck and overloaded trailer over the edge. The truck and trailer jackknifed and ended up in a mess on the steep slope. Luckily Jake was down below with his frontend loader. Seeing what happened, he cranked up his machine and rescued everyone.
The cabin built by Tom is the largest of the three Cabins but has the least level floor space. It does however have a partial concrete floor about 6 by 8 ft. with the year 1976 imprinted in it.
Tom worked an area on the Big Hole claim known as the south pit and produced some of the finest Jasper to come from the area.
Jake used this cabin from 1986 to 1996 when we both were working there. Jake spent two winters in this cabin. This is quite an undertaking as it is not possible to get in or out of the area for 5 months. Jake told me there was a 10 day period where he did nothing but feed his fire and melt snow for water.

  • Morrisonite Cabin
  • Morrisonite Cabin
  • Morrisonite Cabin
  • Morrisonite Cabin

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